A tireless commitment to the strength of our brand and business has positioned Smoothie King as a category leader for more than four decades. However, you can’t generate nearly half a century of staying power by remaining the same.
While we’re always looking for the best ingredients for our smoothies, last year we put a name to our constant state of innovation when we officially rolled out the Clean Blends™ initiative.
“Because more of today’s consumers are looking for low-sugar or low-carb menu options, those preferences presented a barrier to the smoothie segment as a whole,” said Rebecca Miller, chief marketing officer of Smoothie King. “Because fruit naturally contains sugar, many consumers found it difficult to find low-sugar, real-fruit smoothies. We wanted to make sure we were able to accommodate that preference.”
Creating no-sugar-added iterations of our classic smoothie blends was a key component of the Clean Blends™ initiative, but it was part of a much greater process.
Inside the Initial Research and Development Process
The journey to perfecting the Clean Blends™ initiative took place over the course of five years, 15,000 hours of research and development and 150 changes, additions or reformulations to ingredients.
As part of the initiative, we expanded our menu to include blends with 0g of added sugar, while incorporating more whole fruits and organic vegetables into existing and future blends. At the same time, we eliminated:
- Artificial colors, flavors and preservatives
- High fructose corn syrup
- GMO fruits and vegetables
- rBST/rBGH added hormones
- NSF-banned substances
- Hydrogenated oils
- Trans fat
“The official roll-out of Clean Blends™ this past year was a culmination of that five-year process to clean up our menu and all of our ingredients,” Rebecca said. “The process started in 2013 when we first eliminated hydrogenated oils, trans fat and high fructose corn syrup from our smoothies, and it all came together when we introduced our no-sugar-added blends last year.”
Adapting the Initiative Based on Consumer Response
Before rolling out no-sugar-added blends system-wide, Rebecca and the marketing team performed multiple rounds of testing in diverse markets. That way, they had the time and experience necessary to advance store operations and promote strong consumer demand for franchisees.
“You can’t be in love with your idea – you have to listen to franchisees and consumers and if necessary, adapt your strategy accordingly,” Rebecca said. “We always try out product launches or any new brand developments in test markets before rolling them out system-wide.”
No-sugar-added versions of many Purpose blends were introduced across 400 Smoothie King locations in September 2018. They measured the success of the roll-out by diligently tracking key performance indicators, such as brand perception, new guest acquisition and returning guest frequency, among others. Most importantly, they regularly analyzed feedback from guests and Smoothie King operators to better inform their strategy and prepare for a system-wide launch.
“When we first rolled out the no-sugar-added blends in test markets a year ago, the main takeaway was that guests wanted to be able to decide between the original recipe or no-sugar-added version of our smoothies,” Rebecca said. “Sometimes, guests want to get the same smoothie they’ve always ordered and become accustomed to, but other times, they may want to make a different health choice and opt for the no-sugar-added version.”
Ultimately, Rebecca and her team decided to give guests the best of both worlds by readjusting the menu to offer both the original and no-added-sugar smoothie options. That way, they were able to appeal to a broader consumer base, while giving guests a greater degree of autonomy and customization.
“We also found that 50 percent of our guests wanted a menu that clearly defined smoothies which have no-sugar-added and which ones do not,” Rebecca said. “So when it came time to roll out the no-sugar-added smoothies system-wide and across more than 1,000 international stores, we focused on catering to what our guests wanted: menu transparency and options.”
A Continued Commitment to Quality for Guests and Franchisees
Over the past year, the Clean Blends™ initiative has proven exciting among franchisees and consumers alike.
“Clean Blends™ is certainly a long-term brand objective, but we’ve already seen the extremely positive impact it has had on brand perception,” Rebecca said. “We track guest feedback every day, and there’s been a marked increase in guests’ perception of Smoothie King as a quality and clean brand since rolling out Clean Blends™.”
We are always looking for new ways to foster and fuel our franchisees’ success in business while helping guests fuel up to pursue their passions and lead a healthy and active lifestyle. Clean Blends™ was started with both purposes in mind, and it isn’t a one-time product launch or initiative. Rather, it’s an ongoing commitment and key part of our brand identity to continuously improve our menu items and evolve our brand alongside changing consumer preferences.
“We’ve made incredible strides already when it comes to improving our menu, but we are still always looking for additional ways to make the menu even cleaner, for both existing menu items and future products,” Rebecca said. “It comes down to always making sure we have the highest quality ingredients, as well as taking a pulse on guests’ changing wants and needs, so we can continue to play an integral role in their wellness journey.”
By staying ahead of the latest consumer trends, we’re able to offer guests the products they want, while fostering strong demand for franchisees.
“Beyond helping guests live a healthy, purposeful lifestyle, we’re in the business of driving sales for franchisees, and menu innovation is one of the greatest ways to generate excitement and demand for any foodservice brand,” Rebecca said. “With that in mind, we will always be working to identify key opportunities and new products we can offer. Our brand is in a constant state of evolution.”